do dogs get depression?
by Olivia Kennaway, Paws in Work blogger.
In short, the answer is yes. Dogs can experience depressive periods just as we can. Dog depression is biologically the same as human depression, but the way dogs display it is different. Depression is not simply a bad mood or brief sadness, but persistent sadness that lasts for weeks or months which affects behaviour in different ways.
what causes depression in dogs?
There is lots of in depth scientific information out there if you are worried about your dog, but we’ve condensed it into some bullet points below to get you started:
loss of a loved one.
(animal companion or human, dogs definitely mourn and pick up on grief)
a change in you.
(from mimicking your negative mood to a change in your schedule - are you now leaving the house for longer periods of time or not walking or playing with them as often as you used to)
change in environment.
(moving home, new baby/partner, another pet, a human moves out, change in routine)
(such as during and after a pregnancy or in postpartum depression)
(from a cold to bad hips to cancer, dogs do not understand why the pain exists or when it will go away)
phobias and fears.
(a pup who suffers from noise phobias or separation related issues for example can be in a chronic state of stress or anxiety always waiting for the next loud noise or the next time they are left home alone, which can develop into depression)
seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
(this may be similar to the human version or far more likely will be triggered by changes in the dog’s routine, such as less exercise or walks in winter).
(not enough attention or stimulation, especially in working breeds, can lead to bad behaviour which can develop into depression)
just their personality.
(know your dog, be aware of what their usual (resting) mood state is)
what are the symptoms?
Vets warn these symptoms can also mean a dog has a physical medical problem, so the first course of action should always be a full checkup by a veterinarian. A pet that seems subdued and does not want to go for a walk could simply have pain from arthritis.
(depression can install feelings of persistent fatigue and hopelessness in your dog, they may have little enthusiasm for exercise or games or joining in with the things they normally enjoy)
(they may be sleeping more than usual and are uninterested in performing any other behaviours such as walking, playing or eating)
loss of appetite.
(they may lose interest in food/treats or there may be other changes to eating patterns such as drinking less water)
inability to settle.
(your pup may appear restless, not sleeping well or deeply or other changes to sleeping patterns. A normal sleeping pattern for a dog is sleeping 12 – 14 hours a day with the majority of this at night)
(keep an eye on your dogs ‘normal behaviour’, this is unique to every dog so try not to compare too much to someone else's pet even if it is the same breed)
(anxiety can often be confused with stress, but there are key differences. Stress is directed from a one-off situation and will pass, anxiety is a general apprehension that can be worsened by particular scenarios and environments. Anxiety can present itself in the form of behaviours like urination or defecation inside, excessive vocalisations, and destructive behaviour)
how can I help my dog?
Never conclude that your dog has depression without the input of a veterinarian. Let them examine your dog to eliminate other health problems first before you implement treatment.
give it lots of attention (they will feel loved, mentally stimulated and it can help to boost their mood)
seek an animal behaviourist (after observing your pup they can give you a personalised treatment plan to suits their specific needs)
music (this can be very calming - after experimenting you can work out what genre suits your dog best and create a custom puplist for them to listen to)
- pup meet ups (doggie day care or meeting other pups in the park might be the boost your dog needs, make sure you are there to monitor the interactions)
consider buying another pet (this should not be a quick decision, make sure you have the time, finances and space for a new addition to the family and consider all your options first - this could make the situation worse if your current dog does not get on with the newcomer)
- medication (if nothing else seems to be working, consult your vet about which medication will suit your pups needs)
Most dogs bounce back from depression within a few days to a few months with just a little extra TLC.
However, you need to take extra care not to lavish your depressed pup with treats and attention whilst they are moping for this may encourage the negative behaviour by means of reward association (reinforcing that they get attention whenever they are sad). Instead, try to provide attention more regularly generally, stay on schedule and stick to your normal routine, giving them a sense of security and purpose.
You have to be prepared to persevere with this, as one day of attention will not be enough to bring your dog back to their usual self. It can take weeks or months but you will slowly be able to see change and there will most likely be progress with patience.